I was one of many people who were sceptical that Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City side would stay up this season. Who could blame me really as investment in players in the summer was less than forthcoming and speculation was again rife of the future ownership of the club. The season did not start off disastrously for Birmingham but their lack of goals was plain to all to see and fans were getting on the players and the manager’s backs over being too negative. Even at home it appeared that on occasion McLeish was happy with a point and he played a 4-5-1 formation to secure the backline rather than thinking about a more offensive style.
What McLeish had recognised however, since his previous stint with Birmingham in the Premier League two years ago, was the need to be secure at the back. Without stability in defence, there was no hope City could stay up and they may have been cast adrift by this time in the season already at the bottom of the league. Conceding 5 goals in nine matches at home is no mean feat and he now finds his team level on points with Liverpool with matching home and away records, conceding six fewer goals in the process.
In recent months however, along with this defensive solidity, they have extended their success to the other end of the pitch. They have gone on a eight match unbeaten run where they have accumulated 20 points, and have been on a hot streak of five league wins in a row, form in the top flight which hasn’t been seen at St Andrews for 36 years. McLeish has said confidence is high in the dressing room:
I’m proud of the players and I think the fans should be proud of them as well. . . With each game we have won, people are expecting more and mention things like Europe but we are keeping our feet on the ground. . . The Premier League is our main concern and we have given ourselves a very good chance to stay in the strongest league in the world. I never set any targets at the start of the season except trying to finish in the top 17. But we have got to be confident about our team and confident about building on this fantastic first half of the season.
The 2-1 win against Blackburn on Tuesday night means they are closer to their minimum target of staying in the Premier League, and credit where credit’s due, McLeish has done a fantastic job with the Birmingham club and this is even without Yeung’s millions. Out of the three promoted sides, they are no doubt the greatest success story so far more and more praise should be heaped on his team’s achievements. The question remains then, what to do with the apparent £40m transfer kitty in January?
During this fantastic run of form, a splurge on transfers may disrupt the balance of the team, and the atmosphere in the dressing room. No doubt some of the motivation for the players doing so well in recent months has been the awareness that any one of them could be replaced in January and they are trying to prove to their manager they are worth a place in the team. If McLeish goes out for replacements even during a time of such good form then it will surely be detrimental to the Birmingham City’s league placing.
What McLeish has to do, is to weigh up the options, if he fails to bring in fresh new players in January and Birmingham fall away alarmingly in the second half of the season, he may live to regret it, and if he does splash out the cash he must ensure that team morale and form don’t suffer. Key positions in defence, midfield and up front may be his primary concerns and if he does spend wisely and improve the team, he can push Birmingham on in the second half of the season to bigger and better things, and the current hot streak they are on might not be such a rare thing in the future. Talk of Europe may be a bit too much at the moment, but there is a real possibility of a top-half finish if he is wise enough with his transfer dealings.